Discipline makes Daring possible.



It starts when a subcontractor decides they’ll do what’s legal, rather than what’s current best practice.

You don’t see them as part of your team.  That’s why they’re subcontracted, so they cost you less.


Trouble is, they don’t see themselves as part of your team either.

They certainly don’t see your customers as theirs.

So why make any extra effort to keep your Promise.


Whatever that is.


If a customer complains, well, never mind, it’s legal.  Even if it is inconsiderate.  Even if it is different from every other installation.

Your subcontractor isn’t going to re-do work that meets the minimum standard.  You’re not going to pay them to do it again.


So, slowly, over time, current practice gets eroded.

Until the minimum becomes the best your customer can expect.

Especially when they have no choice.


What you don’t yet see, is that you’ve undermined your own foundation.

When you’ve eroded your standards away to the minimum, it isn’t hard to be better.

So as soon as a better alternative appears, you’ll have nothing left to hold you up.

Certainly not your customers.


I’m looking at you Openreach.

Catch it now, while you can.

Blackmail – the new business model?

Blackmail – the new business model?

Is it just me, or is anyone else worried/annoyed/infuriated by the rise of ‘Clubcard Prices’, ‘Nectar Prices’ and the like?

I keep a pretty good track of prices in my head, and from what I could see, ‘Clubcard Prices’ weren’t lower than the usual prices elsewhere.  It was simply an opportunity to put ‘normal’ prices up, by quite a percentage.

Harmless enough, until every other member of the supermarket cartel joins in of course.

To me it feels very much like ‘Give us your loyalty, or you’ll pay extra for everything’.

Since when has blackmail been an acceptable business model?



One of our case studies at London Business School, involved a company that supplied rags to industry.   Rags – textiles at the absolute end of their useful life might seem to be the ultimate commodity.  Almost worthless.   How could a business supplying them ever hope to create unmissable value for it’s customers?


By surrounding that commodity product with deep layers of service.

By getting under the skin of it’s clients; understanding where and how they used the rags and what the problems could be.  Then making sure they more than met every rags need in the way they sold, delivered, collected and disposed of them for the client.

By maintaining that intimacy with their clients through the people they interacted with – the people who delivered and collected, so that every new need could be anticipated and added to the service.

In those days, adding service meant adding people, because people are the only way to create value for other people.

That’s still true, even if nowadays your first thought would be to build an online platform.

Technology doesn’t create new value overall, it can only make it cheaper for a particular business to deliver its service – until another particular business catches up or overtakes, or undercuts (Ever wondered why hand car washes have replaced the automated ones?  Cheap (slave) labour, makes machinery unprofitable).

So if the key to profitability is service, and service means adding people to deal with people, maybe we have an answer to the climate crisis?

Stop making things, use what we already have (e.g. enough clothing for 3 times the global population), and pay people well to support other people – regenerating our environment; housing; education; health; repair and recycling; art; music, entertainment… the list is endless.

We wouldn’t be short of work, and we might well be happier.

After all, this is how we did things for most of our existence on this planet.

One day we might realise we don’t even need money to make this work.

Human Feedback 2 – complaints

Human Feedback 2 – complaints

It may not feel like it, but when a customer complains about your service, they are demonstrating that they care.

If they feel let down, it’s because they feel they have a human relationship with you.   One they value highly enough to fight for.  What you do in response can make or break that relationship.   So you want be doing it on purpose.

That means it pays to make handling complaints part of your Customer Experience Score.

Obviously you can’t predict exactly what might go wrong for a customer, so this is not about predetermining specific solutions to specific problems.  Instead it’s a higher-level process that can be applied to any situation.

The process starts by acknowledging the person’s emotions as well as the facts.  However unreasonable it may be for the person in front of you to feel what they feel, they still feel it.   And while they are feeling, they can’t be thinking.   What they need first is to be seen or heard as a human being, to have their anger/distress/disappointment recognised as valid responses to being let down.

This doesn’t mean coming out with the bland ‘I’m sorry you feel that way‘ kind of statement – the kind that’s usually followed by a ‘but’ – ‘but we don’t do refunds‘.   I mean genuine sympathy – ‘Gosh yes, I would be hopping mad too!‘, ‘Blimey that must have been sooo frustrating.‘ – the kind of sympathy that enables the complainer to recover enough equanimity to move on.   Once you have achieved that, you can acknowledge the facts of what’s happened, without admitting liability.

The next stage is to find out what will make the complainer happy again.   What will repair, or even strengthen your relationship with them.   You need to be able to offer a solution that is right for both of you.   That means collaboration between you.   That starts by asking them ‘What could we do to make this right for you?‘, then continuing to explore what they would feel is reasonable, without committing to anything at this stage.   Bear in mind knock-on effects of the service failure – perhaps something else was damaged as a result, or they had to take time off work to come and see you.   Also bear in mind what is affordable for you.   It’s worth understanding the lifetime value of a customer, as well as the value of this particular transaction.

By the end of this stage, you have a pretty good idea of what would restore your customer’s faith in the relationship.

Now top it.   Offer a solution that will exceed their expectations, without breaking the bank.   This often involves addressing the collateral damage – for example if a pan breaks in normal use, you’d expect to replace it, if in breaking the contents spoilt a tablecloth, you could offer to replace that too.  If they travelled out of their way by public transport to make a complaint, you could send them home in a cab.   It’s this kind of thing that tips a complainer into an advocate for your business.   Remember, they are complaining because they care.

Finally, deliver on the promise, without hesitation.

This process only works when the people running it fully understand the profit margins and lifetime values for your business.

Make sure they know it, and you can let them be creative in coming up with solutions, no matter what the complaint.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

An opportunity

An opportunity

Yesterday brought home to me just how ageist our banks have become.

My husband helps to run a small non-profit organisation.  Just over a year ago, they were told their account wasn’t active enough and would be closed.

13 months later they are still trying to open a replacement.

Doing anything face-to-face is out of the question – the banks simply won’t countenance that.  Everything has to be done as a combination of phone calls with a bank contact and online.

First of all, the bank contacts are obviously overloaded.  It took months to speak to anyone, and months for them to get back with a decision.

But the online part is the pits.

Because the non-profit does things properly, several signatories are involved.   And as with many small, local non-profits, all of them are over 60, some well over 60 – because that’s how they have the time to devote to these causes.

They don’t all have mobile phones, and if they do, they don’t carry them around all the time.  So a simple thing like 2-factor identification becomes a real difficulty.

Then, when they get things wrong, the error messages coming back are unhelpful, for example being told you have entered the wrong email address via an an email sent to that address (!!).  So they get worried about getting things wrong, and do what seems sensible.  They write things down, take things slowly.

But their fingers aren’t as fast as they used to be, so they get logged out of screens before they’ve had time to type things in.

And so they get frustrated, and have to spend more time getting together to try and sort things out.

These are intelligent, kind, generous people who are just trying to help their community.   All they are looking for is somewhere safe to keep the money people have trusted them with; somewhere that will give them an audit trail for the few transactions they need to carry out.

Tough.   Because banks have clearly decided that people don’t matter.  And what could have taken a day to set up in-branch has taken 13 months – so far.

There’s a massive opportunity here for someone prepared to offer a no-frills, human service.  Perhaps not for long, since the baby-boomer bump will be over in a decade or so, but for long enough to do decent business.

I wonder if anyone will take it.

Why try to be a unicorn when you can be a zebra?

Why try to be a unicorn when you can be a zebra?

Last week, someone sent me a link to this article from Harvard Business Review:

“Lessons from Germany’s mid-sized giants”

If you’re interested in what makes small businesses successful, it’s well worth a read.

Ignore the points made at the end – that’s just wishful thinking on the part of management consultants.  These companies don’t need outside interference, or to look more like their Anglo-Saxon counterparts.   They’ve been working well this way for decades and are likely to continue.

For me, it’s an encouraging article, that shows that given the right environment it is possible to be a global business and operate humanely at home and abroad.

Why try to be a unicorn when you can be a zebra?

I’d like to think there are many such businesses hidden away here in the UK too.   I’m unlikely to find out of course, because if there are, they won’t be looking at social media.


‘Sorry’ is never enough

‘Sorry’ is never enough

Corporations, being founded on a theory of Homo Economicus, naturally believe that when someone complains, they are merely seeking personal redress.

That’s true, but it isn’t the whole story.

Most often people want recognition of their own case AND to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.   Sometimes people just want to make sure the mistake isn’t repeated.

That means “Sorry” is never enough, even when accompanied by compensation.   What people really want to see is evidence that the mistake is being rectified.  That systems and process are changed to ensure it can’t be repeated.

Otherwise, the only conclusion to be drawn is that it wasn’t a mistake, but policy.   And compensation a bribe to keep your mouth shut.


Check out this Twitter thread from George Monbiot to see what I mean.

And this thread for the complaint that started it.